Category Archives: Tabletop Games

Anything related to games that are played on the top of a table

Dominion: Michigan Tournament Summary

This past weekend I traveled to Ypsilanti, MI to attend U-Con, a tabletop gaming convention, and participate in the Dominion tournament there. I’ve been to this tournament many times before, winning it in 2015 and helping to organize it the last two years. This year I played in the tournament and was part of a field of 12 people; I won the tournament this year.

I had originally intended to do an interview with the winner but I thought that would be kind of awkward, so what I’ll do in this post is share the kingdoms I played that day and give my commentary on them.

The format of the tournament goes like this: there were 4 preliminary games of Dominion — 3 players in each game. Tournament points are given for placement in each game, 5/3/1 for 1st/2nd/3rd place and the 9 players with the highest tournament point scores after the preliminary games move on to the semifinals.

From there, the scores are discarded and 3 more games are played with the same scoring. The top 3 from the semifinals move on to a single finals game, which solely determines the placement for the top 3 players.

Players were allowed to stack their decks at the beginning of each game so they can have whatever opening they want. Past that, they must shuffle their decks normally; I use this rule in the tournaments I run as well and it was inspired by this tournament.

Let’s get to the kingdoms.

Set 2018-1: Wolf Den, Scouting Party, Squire, Castles, Hermit, Cemetery, Feodum, Necromancer, Rats, Shepherd/Pasture, Rogue, Knights

The Knightmare never ends here with Necromancer and Rogue, and I don’t think it’s possible to build a completely Knight-proof deck here, so whatever you do has to revolve around not only defending yourself well against Knights attacks at all time, but keeping close track of your opponents and make sure they aren’t getting away with too much. In the game I played, I felt like the Knight attack was important every single turn of the game.

I decided to open with a Hermit of course, and a Necromancer too. One opponent opened with a Knight so I prioritized getting a Feodum and started loading up on Squires and trying to “buy” Madmen while keeping a Hermit or two in the deck.

By the third shuffle I was the only one without a Knight, but one of my opponents played Knight, hitting the other Knight and my Feodum. This was a huge stroke of luck for me because now I was functionally the only one with a Knight (I was the only one with a Necromancer) and I had economy that I desperately needed. At this point I started hitting the Knights hard by buying a few of them and also getting more Necromancers.

I had the initiative on Knights at this point so I pressed it pretty hard. I think I was the only one who got any Madmen which also helped a lot. Soon enough there was plenty of juicy stuff in the trash so I picked up some Rogues to gain it: I went for Feodum at this point and ended up with 10 Feoda worth 5 points each to win it cleanly.

I could see this one playing very differently depending on what happens — I thought I would get a Cemetery at some point to thin some Coppers but that never ended up happening, I always felt like I had better things to do and I was making enough money that I could usually afford Scouting Parties — the Coppers didn’t feel like they hurt all that much.

Set 2018-2: Bandit Fort, Conquest, Beggar, Druid(Moon/Sea/Wind), Changeling, Tunnel, Jack, Scout, Noble Brigand, Embassy, Pooka, King’s Court

This one did not go well. I didn’t have any faith in a King’s Court deck here because there would always be too many stop cards (plus you have to line up two King’s Court, a Pooka, and a treasure to trash with basically no support (yes I know Druid/Moon’s Gift is there but I didn’t have any faith in it) and the slowest thinning ever), and I thought just going for Beggars and Duchies would be too good. I opened Jack/Beggar, hoping to turn the Silvers from Jack into Changelings and then Beggars.

Both opponents went for heavy Beggars along with me, so the game ended on Coppers, Beggars, and Changelings. One opponent found time for a King’s Court and managed to line up a Changeling with it to get a second — he Kings Courted two Beggars and won off of those two Provinces.

I want to say I had the worst possible draws imaginable. Perhaps the Jack was just a mistake and I should have gone straight for Beggar? Maybe just playing money would have been good and I should eat the negative points? Normally when things go this badly for me I have to question what I did, but this board was designed to have nothing be good on it.

I ended up with second place in this game and a lot of confusion.

Set 2018-3: Colony/Platinum, Mountain Pass, Dominate, Guardian, Market Square, Dungeon, Ghost Town, Messenger, Taxman, Cobbler, Journeyman, Legionary, Replace

Well you can do all of the things here. The trashing is a little slow but with both Colony and Dominate there should be plenty of time to make a really good deck. In a 3P game with only one stack of villages (Ghost Town) I knew the split would be important so I opened Replace and started spamming them on T2 (an opponent had Messengered a Guardian so I had $3 on turn 2). I ended up with 8 of the Ghost Towns and from that point I felt like I couldn’t lose the game.

Another player got an early Colony or two while I was building and so I had to be very careful about piles with Messenger around, but when he got a Province to trigger Mountain pass he was tempted by some cheap VP tokens, which was great for me. I had more time and I was never losing a longer game here. I dominated 3 times or so until I was comfortable ending the game on piles and that was it.

Taxman was great here, since it was the best way to trash Coppers and it also had utility with Gold->Platinum. I was the only player to get Taxman in my game.

Set 2018-4: Orchard, Lost Arts, Embargo, Vagrant, Diplomat, Cultist, Wine Merchant, Mint, Distant Lands, Fairgrounds, Hireling, Secret Cave

This is a perfectly fine kingdom, except that there’s Cultist in it. I was allowed to open with a Cultist so of course that’s what I did; one of my opponents did the same and the other decided to ignore Cultist. On turn 3 I got the luckiest draw ever, playing my Cultist and having 6 Coppers. I slapped Lost Arts on Cultist and never looked back, just shoving all sorts of different cards in the deck until I got my Magic Lamp off and had several sets of Orchard points. Nobody ever Embargoed Cultist which would have been really annoying for me, but I probably would have taken Curses with them to at least end up with 3 Cultists in the deck.

Eventually I found myself with enough draw to get a decent Mint and after that I just started getting Fairgrounds. The game ended on time and I had quite a lot of points. Of note is that I ended up with 3 Abandoned Mines, but no Ruined Villages, so I had 19 unique cards for my Fairgrounds. I also thought I had 3 Secret Caves but I only had two because I’m bad at counting.

Set 2018-A: Colony/Platinum, Wall, Triumph, Monastery, Settlers/Bustling Village, Chariot Race, Storeroom, Secret Passage, Artificer, Bandit, Counting House, Pillage, Goons

There was some talk of a Counting House/Storeroom deck being good here. I think that’s complete madness — for that deck to work you need to have a huge deck and so many copies of a lot of key cards, as well as a billion Secret Passages, and then the payload is what, a couple of Colonies?

I had faith in a different deck. One that spams Chariot Races for VP tokens, using Secret Passages to support by topdecking the same expensive card to reveal over and over. This deck also likes to have some villages and Goons too, since Monastery can somewhat effectively keep you thin, so I went with that build. I was not shy about putting a lot of Settlers, Chariot Races, and Secret Passages in the deck, but I only managed to get one Bustling village so the Goons presence was less than I had originally expected.

I ended the game with almost 50 VP tokens and only losing 10 points to my Wall.

Set 2018-B: Colony/Platinum, Triumphal Arch, Bonfire, Gladiator/Fortune, Cemetery, Conclave, Gardens, Jack, Militia, Horn of Plenty, Mandarin, Tragic Hero, Raider

So there’s a Mandarin/Horn trick you can do here, and you may even be able to turn it up higher by using Fortune, but it’s hard-countered by Militia so I didn’t go for it.

Without Colony I would be very tempted by a slower deck that involves Jacks, Horns, and Gardens, but I figured that Colonies would just be too many points so I went for a different build.

I went for Jack and Bonfire to get pretty thin, then I wanted to set up a big turn with a Ghost out where I transition from a few Silvers to a some bigger treasures and a few Tragic Heroes in the deck. This build was pretty fast (none of my opponents opened with a Jack which seemed very strange to me) and I ended up with 6 Colonies for a somewhat clean win here.

Set 2018-C: Labyrinth, Ritual, Poorhouse, Changeling, Enchantress, Scheme, Transmogrify, Devil’s Workshop, Pillage, Farmland, Prince, Peddler

This is a cool board with a lot of tricks that I like. With two wins in the semifinals before this I was going last this game, so after my T1 Transmogrify opening I saw some Enchantress buys from my opponents and I just couldn’t stomach putting another action card into my deck that wasn’t going to do anything for me, so I got a Silver.

That “worked out” for me because one opponent drew both Transmogrify and Enchantress on T3 and managed to get an Enchantress in play every turn for a very very long time. It was a huge setback for me since I just had to pick up more copies of the actions I wanted to play before I could do anything at all while he was building a better deck.

It felt bad and I was behind a few turns, but I managed to pull out a close second place here. I Ritualed a few Golds and Transmogrified a few Peddlers into Provinces and I’d like to think that it would have been a much different game if I was either not last player or my opponent hadn’t gotten that amazing T3 draw. But I had my fair share of luck in the tournament too so I don’t complain too much.

Set 2018-F: Colony/Platinum, Shelters, Ritual, Summon, Raze(BANE), Watchtower, Dismantle, Exorcist, Necromancer, Procession, Young Witch, Band of Misfits, Cobbler, Artisan, Prince

Procession madness for anyone who can get control of their deck here. I had earned the right to go first in this game and man, if you let me Summon a Young Witch as first player I’m not gonna turn that down. I feel like a junking advantage early is such a huge deal because it makes it much harder for your opponents to get good coverage, even though there are great defensive tools here in Watchtower and Raze. I spammed Razes and trashed them aggressively just so I could play my Young Witch as much as possible. I ended up taking zero Curses until the last turn of the game (I bought a Curse to end the game on piles).

From this point I couldn’t really lose — both opponents were going to have good decks but they had several turns of cleanup to do before they could do all that much, meanwhile I was going through Procession chains and gaining ALL of the cards while continuing to pummel them with Curses. Eventually when the Curses were low I was able to use my deck to 3-pile and grab a few Duchies for the win.

There was a huge first player advantage that I capitalized on to win this game, but hey I earned it by having the best score in the semifinals so I don’t feel that bad. I imagine I would feel differently if I was one of my opponents.

The best play of this game, though, was made by one of my opponents. At one point there were a few Bands of Misfits and Necromancers in the trash. He played a Band of Misfits as a Necromancer as a Band of Misfits as a Necromancer as a Band of Misfits as a Necromancer as a Band of Misfits as a Necromancer as a Necromancer as a Necromancer as, umm, I don’t remember after that but does it really matter? Epic.

So that’s it for the kingdoms. Obviously it felt good to win the tournament and it was also nice to visit people in the area I knew from the local Dominion scene. I qualified for the finals of the GenCon tournament next year with this win, and hopefully I’ll be able to make it. I’d consider playing in that tournament again next year but with the baby I’m not positive that will happen.

Well that’s all I’ve got for now.

Dominion: Renaissance first impressions

A week ago the Renaissance expansion for Dominion was released. I opened up a poll asking people to rate each card-shaped object in the expansion from 0 to 10, based on how powerful they thought it was after initially seeing it and without having much time to play with it.

There were 47 responses, which is a great sample size. If you’d like a link to the raw data and the output of my script that computes the basic stats from that data, you can find that here.

A couple of quick notes before I get to presenting the data.

First, I did not submit my ratings for this poll and I asked other people who playtested the expansion who I talked to to do the same. The game designer has asked that we withhold our opinions on this for a couple of months.

I’ll be doing another poll around that time to see how opinions have changed after having some time to play with the cards, and I’ll be submitting my ratings to that poll. When I do the write-up for that poll I’ll provide my own commentary on where I agreed or disagreed with the community’s ratings, etc.

Second, I’ve been doing some thinking about the way this data should be presented, and I’m going to present the data differently from now on. Here’s why: these ratings are subjective in nature and it’s based largely on the fact that there is no “best” definition for what it means for a card to be strong/powerful or weak. If I ask you which of two cards is more powerful, what does that actually mean?

I’ve often said that minor differences in ranking or power level shouldn’t be taken that seriously, and I’ve made it clear that I don’t think this list functions well as a way to directly compare two cards, but then I just go ahead and present the data as a ranked list even though that’s not supposed to be the main takeaway. Why do I do that? That’s just silly. So I’m not going to do that anymore (and maybe if I get time to do it I’ll re-format the results from previous posts). I’ll present the data here as I think it’s most appropriate, and if you really want to see a ranking of the cards you can take the raw data and do it yourself. Just know that I don’t think there’s any value at all in doing that.

OK enough of that rant. Let’s see some data!

First, I’ll present the list of all ratings with relevant stats. It’s sorted not by mean this time, but we have the cards first (then the projects) and then they’re sorted in alphabetical order. Here it goes:

Keep in mind that if something has a high variance, the median score is often a better metric than the mean score for getting a more accurate representation of the data. Also, keep in mind that there is even less of a clear idea of what makes a Project powerful than there is for making a card powerful, so as expected we see slightly higher variance for those.

Hopefully you can take a look at this list and see for any given card what the approximate opinion is about that card.

I’d also like to point out that the mean scores have a range of 3.8 through 8.18, which is less than 4.5. I think that this means the first impressions of the Renaissance cards are fairly uncertain at this point — if a card is particularly strong or bad, many people haven’t figured that out by just looking at it (and for the record I gave out scores as low as 3 and as high as 10 for my own personal first impressions — I believe the power is there).

Here’s a second way to look at the data, in chart form:

The data here is the same, but the way it’s displayed is designed to give a better idea of how the variance plays into things. The horizontal tick for each card represents the mean score, and the bar going up or down represents the 95% confidence interval for that rating. Statistically, this means we should be 95% confident that the “real” rating of the card lies within the range of that vertical bar.

So cards with less agreement have bigger vertical bars, and cards with more agreement have a smaller range.

So here’s the data, I hope this is enlightening for you in some way. If there’s a big disagreement between your rating and the consensus, it should be an interesting discussion to hash out where that comes from. In a few months I’ll be making another poll and comparing those results to this post, so stay tuned!

Dominion: World Championship summary

Earlier this month at GenCon in Indianapolis, Rio Grande Games held another world championship tournament for Dominion. This was the tournament I won last year, and even though I didn’t compete this year I attended the final round for 9 players this year. I watched the finals unfold and eventually the winner was crowned.

The Dominion world champion for 2018 was the Mexican champion, Marlon.

I don’t have all of the details for the tournament, but the round of nine came down to a tiebreaker game between two people. The two of them agreed to split the prize money after the tournament was over (which happened successfully) but had to play for the title of world champion.

The kingdoms used for the tournament were all recommended sets. The kingdom used for the finals used cards from the Intrigue and Prosperity expansions:

Lurker, Swindler, Wishing Well, Bridge, Vault, Patrol, Forge, King’s Court, Bank, Expand

I was able to get a couple of interviews with the participants. The first one was after the first game had finished with the three people who played in the game. The second interview was with Ryan, the one who made the final tiebreaker game but lost.

Dominion: What is an engine?

It’s been no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the term “engine” when it comes to Dominion. I used to use the term quite a bit, but when I talk to people about building those types of decks in Dominion, I find that it’s not a very “instructive” term to use. What does that mean? Mostly that it’s hard to tell someone who doesn’t already understand the concept and have them understand, and I can’t find any sort of definition that gives insight into real games of Dominion like I can with villages or draw. On top of that, the term “engine” is overloaded, meaning that in lots of different types of games it can mean various things. All of this adds up to “engine” being intimidating to some players who are trying to get comfortable with building more complex decks.

But enough about why I don’t like the term, what I really want is to bridge the gap between someone who doesn’t know what an “engine” is, and someone who is very good at the game and able to effectively communicate using the E-word. I want to dig in and figure out all of the things that people can mean when they say “engine”, and figure out some way to make that information accessible to the people who can use it. I’ve taken enough time to whine about people using the word identify the problems with the word and it’s time for me to do what I can to actually suggest better ways to communicate.

So I made a Google form and had some help putting links to it in lots of places online. The form just asked people to write down what they meant when they said “engine,” and hopefully we can get some insight from these responses. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for going into this, and I certainly wasn’t thinking that a coherent definition of the term could come out of it, but maybe there’s something in the data that can teach me and others something they didn’t already know. Without any more intro, here’s a link to the spreadsheet containing all of the results.

With a little bit of help, I tried to come up with key points that were found a lot among the answers to try and find the most common ideas. There were 67 (serious) responses to the question, and as expected, there doesn’t appear to be a consensus — the most common key point wasn’t even mentioned by half of the people who responded. I’ll show a chart of the results of this, explain what each of the key points means, and give a few brief comments for now.


Now it’s time to explain what these categories mean, but first I’ll mention that the light blue bars represent responses that addressed the key points, but they used some softening language like “typically” or “sometimes.”

Key point definitions:

Draws/”cycles” a lot: Describes decks that either draw all of their cards, draw most of their cards, and/or are able to play their most important cards each turn.

Consistency: This key point mostly just checked for the word “consistent” or similar words or phrases like “each turn.”

Plays a lot of stuff (actions): Describes decks that play a lot of cards on a typical turn, specifically action cards.

Buying power/payload: Describes answers that refer to building a bigger-than-normal payload.

Growing: Describes decks that are able to increase their abilities rapidly.

Actions (villages): Describes decks that make use of “additional actions” or the village-effect.

Good/win game: Describes decks that have a goal of winning the game, or the best deck that can be built on a given kingdom.

Synergies: Describes decks that aim to use cards that work well together.

Not Money: Describes decks that are far away from the concept of “Big Money.”

Card Value Property: Describes decks that have a very specific property mentioned in a few of the answers. I’ll quote one of them here:

“[…] A deck whose average value per turn derives from its total deck composition, rather than its average deck composition.”

If you’re interested in the data, then that’s the end of the data. Feel free to make a copy of that Google Sheet and play around with it if you’re interested in tweaking some numbers or concept definitions, or maybe you think that some of the answers aren’t categorized perfectly. At the very least, it can give you a bit of an idea for what people are talking about in general when they say “engine.”

Everything below this point will be my own personal commentary on the data. It’s just high-level stuff at this point because I kind of want to wrap my head around some of these concepts before making any real content based off of it, but I’ll at least give an idea of what kind of content I’m thinking about when it comes to this stuff.

So my goal here is to come up with instructive things to tell people who don’t know what an engine is. I’m trying to get as much value as possible out of the data here, so let’s see how we can look at this to learn stuff.

First, if you just look at what the more common answers are, you can see the general ideas people are trying to get across when they say “engine” — a deck that draws itself, plays a lot of stuff, and has big turns. After seeing multiple discussions attempting to find a “cohesive definition” for the term, I’m pretty convinced that it’s not worth doing, though. I’m not saying that the word has no value, but I’m saying that it has so many different meanings that some context is needed to help nail down what “engine” means if one wants to use that word.

Everyone has a different mental model of Dominion (well, everything actually) and I just don’t think building good decks in Dominion is simple enough to have everything captured by metrics as simple as these. The more an individual plays Dominion, the more sophisticated their mental model of the game becomes, and so it’s much more difficult to describe it simply. It’s pretty clear that any attempt to take shortcuts in talking about good decks in Dominion is going to leave out enough detail that the point just isn’t getting across — it’s not doing justice to the diverse set of mental models that make up the thousands of people who are very good at Dominion and have a relatively deep understanding of how to make good decks. The fact that there are many definitions of “engine” in this data set that make a lot of sense, but address completely different aspects of deck building, shows that without some context, a single word is just not enough to get the point across.

I could continue to gripe about why I don’t think using the E-word is all that great in lots of circumstances, but that was never the point of this poll. The point was for me to try and understand what value there is in the knowledge contained within the “conventional wisdom” of the advice “build an engine” — advice I gave for years and years to people, right before I watched their eyes glaze over.

So what can we do that’s constructive? How can we get these concepts across to people who don’t already know what everything means? Well I think it’s worth sorting through these categories to find the ones that can be talked about in detail, and I’ll start by eliminating the ones that aren’t instructive.

Let me say something about these key points that aren’t instructive. Just because they aren’t instructive doesn’t mean they are wrong. I wouldn’t disagree with any of these, but I also wouldn’t say any of these as a response to someone who asked me how to get better at the game because I don’t think they serve that specific purpose.

Good/win game: This one seems like it has the least instructive value. People already know that they want to build good decks and win the game, and I don’t think anyone out there truly believes that the best deck on every single kingdom out there involves “building an engine” in the same sense as all of these other key points describe.

Not Money: “Big Money” decks are always technically possible to build, but they suffer from some of the same problems with definitions as “engine” decks do. Many mental models of the game force all decks into the “money” category and the “engine” category, but this key point seems to me as just a symptom of the idea that “engine” is just a shortcut word that tries to leave out a lot of detail where it’s really needed. Since the whole point is to be able to talk about that detail without the shortcut, I don’t think this metric is going to be helpful there.

Plays a lot of stuff (actions): It’s easy to build a deck that does this, and it’s true, the best decks do this. This metric by itself, though, is just one measuring stick you can use to describe some decks that are able to accomplish a lot of great things. But correlation is not causation, and just telling people to buy and play lots of action cards is not going to help them succeed. Good Dominion advice has to do more than just point at things like this, it has to focus on the “why” and less on the “what.”

There are seven key points left after I take these out. Seven things that describe decks that I think everyone would agree are very good decks to build. Each of these seven key points are intertwined in a way that it’s very difficult to untangle them completely, but you can look at these and try to use them to come up with goals for a particular kingdom. More importantly, when you’re doing something good, you know why; and when you’re looking for strengths and weaknesses of “engine” decks you want to build, you can identify what they are, how they will affect you, and how you may be able to use other tools to compensate for them.

Draws/”cycles” a lot


Buying power/payload


Actions (villages)


Card Value Property

I want to work these core concepts into future content that I make — most likely podcast episodes (since that’s like, all of the content I’ve been making these days). Talking about these things without the context of a kingdom at least makes sense to me, even if I don’t quite use the exact same words as these key points of the definitions they came from. These things are hallmarks of many good decks you can build. In spite of the fact that some of these aren’t really defined that well (I’m looking at you, consistency), there’s room for discussion about these concepts, and these concepts can be referred back to when you have a kingdom in front of you and you want to identify the tools you have to address each of these things.

But let’s get back to my gripes with the E-word and what started all of this. I think what I’ve been doing is using “engine” as a scapegoat for a different problem I have: it’s when people take shortcuts when communicating about the game. Shortcuts definitely have their place in language and what that means is that I think I need to stop treating “engine” like a four-letter word. I’m going to start with a new attitude towards “engines” where it’s OK to use the word, as long as you take the extra work to describe what deck you’re talking about. So if I describe a deck by saying:

“I’m going to use Chapel to trash all ten of my starting cards, get an Artisan ASAP, and load up on Festivals and Journeymen for draw. If there’s any competition, I’ll probably prioritize the Festival split. Once I have complete control over my deck and I’m overdrawing a bit, I’ll throw in a Tunnel to start flooding with Golds until my deck can buy two Provinces per turn (or maybe three if I’m drawing enough), then focus down the Provinces while staying viable due to Journeyman’s sifting ability. I’ll call this deck the engine deck.”

Now I have an idea of what that deck does and why it’s good, and I don’t have to use so many words to compare it to this delicious Bureaucrat/Silk road deck that I might label “slog.” Establishing the shortcut before using it can make communication more effective, and could even be useful for distinguishing decks that are similar in their “engineyness” but have different build paths, payloads, methods of deck control, etc.

So that’s my two cents on what I’ve learned from this survey. I welcome comments on it, and especially ideas for how to organize content that addresses these topics in a way that can be beneficial to lots of people who want to break through to the next level of Dominion play, whatever that is for them. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this “card value property” as it represents a new way of thinking about Dominion decks that I’ve never really thought about before.

Dominion: Summer 2018 Tournament summary

This Saturday, July 21, 2018; I put on my ninth Dominion tournament with physical cards near Cincinnati, OH. This one was officially sanctioned by the publisher, meaning that I got to give some extra goodies out to the people who made it, and also it consisted of 3-player games.

Turnouts have been growing recently, my January 2018 tournament had my largest turnout yet of 23 people and I was expecting to have a couple more for this one, but we ended up with a huge pool of 31 players! As an organizer, I don’t think I could have asked for a better experience and I’m hoping the success continues and the player pools continue to get larger.

One more time I want to thank everyone who came out to play and everyone who has been talking about these tournaments. These are successful, and are starting to grow even faster mostly because of you all.

I’d like to give a summary of the four designed kingdoms we used for the finals of the tournament. What I’ll do is post them here first, then the rest of my comments, and then talk about the kingdoms at the bottom of this post. So if you want to play these kingdoms without any spoilers, just don’t read the bottom of this post after the warning.

Finals set 1: Pooka, Shepherd, Baron, Miser, Counterfeit, Border Village, Village, Gladiator, Royal Seal, Armory, Lost Arts, Inheritance

Finals set 2: Forge, Peddler, Hamlet, Moneylender, Farming Village, Candlestick Maker, Merchant, Venture, Jack of all Trades, Fortune Teller, Arena, Bandit Fort

Finals set 3: Mandarin, Capital, Legionary, Night Watchman, Crown, City Quarter, Moat, Butcher, Ironworks, Charm, Donate, Pathfinding; with Platinum/Colony

Finals set 4: Festival, Journeyman, Tunnel, Chapel, Secret Passage, Shanty Town, Artisan, Gardens, Silk Road, Bureaucrat, Bonfire, Mission

I’ll post the standings below, but first I want to give a shoutout to the winner of this tournament, Nathan. This is the second time he’s won one of my tournaments and he won this one in a pretty convincing fashion. Out of 8 games he played he won all of them except for one, setting him pretty far ahead of the rest of the field. There were four other people who cashed, taking home portions of the huge prize pool: Ryan, Jessica, plus Adam and John who split the 4th place prize.

The scores for the top 9 players represent their scores in the final round, with the scores in parenthesis being their scores in the preliminaries (which compare to the preliminary scores of all of the other players below).

Our champion, Nathan, won’t be able to attend GenCon in a couple of weekends, so Ryan will be representing this tournament at the world championship.

I’ll do my best to continue to have these every 6 months. I’ve been told that everything in my life will change once my first child is born, which should happen in about two months, but if it’s humanly possible, I’ll be having my next tournament somewhere around January of 2019, and I hope to see everyone there!


Don’t scroll past here if you wanted to play the finals sets without hearing my commentary on them.


All right, let’s talk about those designed kingdoms. I don’t do quite as much playtesting on the 3P kingdoms, just because it’s harder to do, and I also wanted to try some different things that aren’t possible to playtest using the online client. What this means is that I’m a little less confident that what I’m saying about these kingdoms is any good. Let’s get into it:

Finals set 1: Pooka, Shepherd, Baron, Miser, Counterfeit, Border Village, Village, Gladiator, Royal Seal, Armory, Lost Arts, Inheritance

I know it’s a popular direction to go — you get to stack your deck at the start of the game for my IRL tournaments, so people naturally want to do some crazy-powerful openings. I normally don’t go for those sort of puzzley-type openings in my designed kingdoms, mostly because I question how much that tests Dominion skill, but I thought I’d give it a shot here with at least something else thrown into the opening to make it tough.

The only thing I can really say about this board with confidence is that you want to start with Cursed Gold and 4 Coppers on turn one, and buy Inheritance. There are a lot of options for what you could Inherit here, and I wanted to put everything that looked like a good Inheritance target in, but with nothing that stood out as the best play. Inheriting Shepherd, Baron, or Miser all seem very sexy, but right now I’m leaning towards Village as the best thing to Inherit on T1, with Miser coming in a close second.

Let me be real with you here, I’ve built a lot of terrible decks here, and it’s really easy to get caught up in things that aren’t very good: Shepherd is in my opinion a vastly overrated card, and Pooka seems like it could work out here but I’m just not all that convinced. Given that all of the sources of draw are dicey at best, I’m not convinced that building a huge deck is the way to go here. Maybe just blitzing Misers until you can make them worth $8 is the best thing to do here.

The other crunchy parts of this kingdom are the fact that the only way to trash your Cursed Gold is to Counterfeit it, which gives you two Curses. There is no way to trash Curses either.

Finals set 2: Forge, Peddler, Hamlet, Moneylender, Farming Village, Candlestick Maker, Merchant, Venture, Jack of all Trades, Fortune Teller, Arena, Bandit Fort

I love Bandit Fort, and I especially love janky boards where Bandit Fort really steps on everything you want to do. There’s no draw here except for Jack of All Trades (which is not really draw) so what you can do is limited here, but there are a couple of paths I could see being good.

The first idea is to thin with Moneylender and try to get as many Peddlers as possible, then Forge them into Provinces. The second idea is to get Farming Villages and Fortune Tellers. The third idea is to have your economy come from Candlestick Makers, but I’m pretty sure this is the worst option available. I also think that Jack of All Trades could possibly fit into any of these decks, but you’d have to be very careful about it.

If it was me, I’d open Moneylender/Candlestick Maker. I’d spam Hamlets and try to drain Peddlers, picking up a Forge at the first chance. My money is on the Forge/Peddler strategy here, but I can see the attack on Fortune Teller being really disruptive.

Finals set 3: Mandarin, Capital, Legionary, Night Watchman, Crown, City Quarter, Moat, Butcher, Ironworks, Charm, Donate, Pathfinding; with Platinum/Colony

This is another one of those sets that I based around a combo deck. In this case, the elephant in the room is Mandarin/Capital, but it’s countered hard by Legionary.

So what do you do here? Well you need to draw a lot of cards, and you need to have a lot of action cards in order to draw that much in the fact of Legionary. City Quarter is hard to get, so I imagine Moat is pretty good here as well.

In the end, Capital shenanigans are probably the best payload you can ask for. Crown and Mandarin will probably still work, but Mandarin doesn’t play all that nicely with the bigger decks you can build here, unless you can build in something with Crown, maybe Night Watchman, etc. I was kind of hoping that Crown would be a better enabler for Capital than Mandarin would…

How would I open here? That’s actually really tough. I can see arguments for opening with Charm or Butcher along with a Moat, and even throwing an Ironworks or a Mandarin in there before Donating. From there, how I build depends on how fast I want to get Legionary online and what I see my opponents doing.

Finals set 4: Festival, Journeyman, Tunnel, Chapel, Secret Passage, Shanty Town, Artisan, Gardens, Silk Road, Bureaucrat, Bonfire, Mission

There’s a strong sloggy option here with Bureaucrat, Silk Road, Gardens, and Tunnel with Festival to support. There’s also a higher-payload deck you can build here with Festival and Journeyman for draw, Artisan and Chapel to support, and can even work in Shanty Town and Tunnel with the help of Secret Passage. This deck also can make some good use of Mission as well.

Two decks, and I imagine that the Journeyman deck is probably best if nobody is contesting those components, and it’s closer if two people go for that and a third player goes for Bureaucrat. Adapting to what you see from your opponents is probably key here, which is tougher if you want to not open with a Chapel, but still potentially doable.

How would I open? Well I’d stack a 5/2 and get Festival on turn one, and probably a Chapel on turn 2. My insight here is that Festival is a good card for every deck, so aiming to get a lot of those is my priority. I’d hope to hit $6 ASAP for an Artisan, and probably build the draw deck unless I felt like that was going to be a losing proposition (not enough Festivals) in which case I might pivot towards a deck that focuses more on Silk Roads than Gardens.

Summer 2018 Cincinnati Dominion Tournament

Facebook event

Saturday, July 21, 2018: 1PM-8PM
Game Swap
1065 Reading Rd, Ste E
Mason, Ohio 45040

RSVP is not required — you can just show up, but it helps me plan if I know who is coming in advance. You can just send E-mail to if you would like to RSVP.

I’ll have promo cards to give out to all players — they’re sending me Dismantle! The winner of this tournament will be qualified for the World National tournament at GenCon 2018 along with the top finishers splitting the prize pool (80% of the entry fees).

This tournament will consist of Three-player games, and have a $5 entry fee. All expansions and promo cards may be used, I won’t be using any of the removed cards from Base or Intrigue, though. All kingdoms used in the finals will be designed and playtested by me.

The winner of the tournament will have the opportunity to play a “trophy match” against me, the Dominion world champion for 2017. You may pick any kingdom you like and you may go first; if you win, you get to hold on to the Scout trophy (pictured) until the next tournament. If you lose, you still get the standard first-place prize for winning this tournament.

I anticipate we’ll be done by 8PM, and if you are eliminated early on in the tournament you could be done earlier — everyone who enters is guaranteed at least four games in the tournament. After the tournament, there will be the regular board gaming.

Dominion: Nocturne Cards revisited

It’s been a few months since the release of Nocturne. I captured some first impressions of how powerful each of the cards in the set was a few months ago; and a week or so ago I put up another poll to see what opinions people have after having some time to play with the cards. This blog post will show the results of that poll, along with a comparison to see which cards were the winners and losers. And finally, you’ll get to hear my opinions on the Nocturne cards and how I differ from the community.

For more detail on my thoughts on each Nocturne card, you can check out this first impressions video, and then this podcast episode for more recent thoughts.

Let’s take a look at the rankings given for this Nocturne poll — keep in mind that for cards with a high variance, the median may be a more relevant data point to think about than the mean

I think the interesting thing to look at here is to see how much cards have changed since our initial impressions, so let’s take a look at that piece of data:

It seems like Monastery had a bit of potential that was missed by some folks at the start of things, and several cards have fallen out of favor by the crowd, including Necromancer, Cobbler, Raider, and Crypt. It seems like a lot of the Nocturne cards seemed to tend farther away from the low or high end of power level — almost all rankings were contained within the 3 to 8 range.

I’ll use the ratings I have for the cards now, and compare them to the rankings we got here, and let’s address a few of the cards with the most disagreement!

Here’s the really juicy stuff, let’s go:

Cobbler: Wow, a 4.5 versus my 8 rating? There’s a huge disconnect here, and I don’t think I’m willing to budge and even say that Cobbler is a 7! Cobbler is so good, and I think it’s been seriously underrated. I seriously don’t know how anyone could rate this card lower than Ironworks, which is a solid 8 for me, but the community rated at 5.67 in the last poll — I guess that’s the core of the disconnect here, but man, gaining cards is amazing when you don’t have to spend an Action to do it.

Guardian: I remember my initial impressions where I gave Guardian a 4, then after playing with it I changed my rating to a 2. The big thing this card has going against it is the fact that its effect minus the defense is really bad. It’s worse than Copper. That’s so bad, and while it isn’t terminal, it might as well be because it does nothing for your current turn, and so little for your next turn. Gaining this to hand just doesn’t matter enough to save this card. I stand by the 2.

Leprechaun: Did you know that you can wish for Gold? That means you could gain TWO GOLDS with Leprechaun! OP OP!!!! Really though, even if you never get a Wish with this card it’s OK, and gaining a Wish is just so incredibly powerful, you can add a ton of payload to a deck that can overdraw, or you get extra flexibility in case you wanted something else. All you need is a Village and some modest amount of deck control and this card is worth getting almost all of the time. I even contemplated giving Leprechaun an 8.

Idol: I started with Idol as a 6, then moved it down to a 4. I could see that being a little harsh, but I’m not super warm on this card. In any case, I don’t think there’s a huge disagreement here.

Pooka: I gave it a 7, the average here was a 5. I wonder if people were taking Cursed Gold into account when rating Pooka, as it can be unplayable sometimes with no Curse trashing, but trash a Copper and draw a bunch of cards is pretty good, even with the awkward dance you have to do. Pooka is a solid card, I stand behind the 7.

Ghost Town: 6.24, and I gave it an 8. I don’t think my ratings for all villages are higher than normal, and Ghost Town is above average when it comes to villages, so yes, I think people have underrated this card for sure.

While I could argue for my ratings over other ratings, I’d say there isn’t much of a disagreement from here down on the list. Let’s hear what you all think, how wrong am I? How wrong is everyone?

Dominion: Winter 2018 Tournament summary

This weekend I hosted my eighth Dominion tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio; we had 23 people turn out for this one, which is the largest field we’ve ever had. The interesting thing is that a lot of new faces were here for this tournament from groups I had no direct connection with, I’m really hoping that this is an indication that word is spreading about the fun and well-run Dominion tournaments that are regularly happening and this will only become bigger as these tournaments continue.

This field featured my youngest contestant, a record number of Adams (there were two, not including myself!), and for the first time we have a repeat champion: Kevin Thompson! The other people who won portions of the prize pool were Adam Hopkins in second place, and Adam Blasch and Ben Voorhorst who split the third and fourth place prizes (instead of playing a tiebreaker game).

The tournament consisted of two-player games, and I designed four kingdoms for use in the finals. You can find a list of all of the kingdoms used here, along with some other information about the setup of the event. This post will discuss in detail the four designed kingdoms, as well as a fifth kingdom that I designed but didn’t use in the finals (it’s table 1 in the spreadsheet).

In two-player tournaments, there are much fewer games played with these kingdoms, so there may be a few perspectives out there that I didn’t see during the tournament. This post will share those kingdoms and I’ll add my thoughts about the design and play of these kingdoms. I’ve done quite a bit of playtesting so I think I have the best stuff nailed down but of course I may have missed something…

Table 1: Farmland, Bandit, Forum, Rats, Secret Passage, Moneylender, Devil’s Workshop, Vassal, Market Square, Vagrant, Save, Ritual, Shelters

This one was not part of the finals, it was the fifth designed kingdom I had, but there are only four that I use for the finals. This means that I did get to see more people play this one. I designed this one to just be fun to play.

So there’s quite a bit you can’t do here — there’s no “real” draw other than Imp, and there’s no village other than Necropolis. However, there’s a ton of synergy between lots of different cards here, which make for a deck that just feels good to play. There are two “packages” here:

  1. Secret Passage and Forum can enable Vassal and Vagrant to be quite good. Vagrant can kind of be used as draw, if you set it up with a Secret Passage, play the Vagrant, and then play another Secret Passage or a Forum to filter out the bad stuff. Being able to set up your Vassals to hit non-terminals is a pretty powerful effect as well.
  2. There’s no way to really get rid of your Shelters, but Farmland and Rats can allow you to get some benefits out of them. If you can set it up, you could trash both Hovel and Overgrown Estate with a single Farmland buy, and maybe you want to keep the Necropolis around? (I don’t really think you need it though), but Farmland can be pretty useful here as a Silver-that’s-only-good-for-buying-Provinces-and-doesn’t-work-well-if-you-have-more-than-one-at-a-time, or a pretty nice Ritual target.

So there’s this tension between wanting to green early because of Forum and wanting to build more because you can get lots of points from Ritual while increasing the capabilities of your deck. I saw a lot of people try a lot of different things, but my favorite moment was when someone managed to reveal a hand of all Rats after playing a Rats. That’s how you know you’re truly HWinning.

To open on this board, I would stack a 4/3 and just get Moneylender/Market Square. If they collide you’re very happy to grab an early Gold, and Silver just isn’t so important early on because the next few cards I want to get are Devil’s Workshop and about 55 Secret Passages.

Finals set 1: Prince, Fairgrounds, Rogue, Tragic Hero, Spice Merchant, Sea Hag, Armory, Exorcist, Merchant, Encampment/Plunder, Ball

Why hello there, Sea Hag. I love a board where you can just ignore her (I’d say it’s a majority of 2P boards where you see her, actually) but sadly this is not one of them. Yes, you can deal with the purples but it’s something that slows down your opponent enough that I think you need to go for it. Also, later on she can be Exorcised into an Imp (theme?) which is quite nice. In the two games that were played with this kingdom, one person went for the lovely lady, the other didn’t, and the person who got all of the purples lost the game.

There’s some other cool interactions going on here, though. +Buy is really limited, since there is no way to play a Tragic Hero, still have actions left, and keep the poor guy alive. It also feels pretty bad to Armory a Silver just to trash it to Spice Merchant for a buy, so you have to leverage the gaining ability of Rogue to gain Tragic Heroes back from the trash, and you really want to be playing a Ghost to hit a Tragic Hero each turn so you can get two buys from him while he kicks the bucket yet again. He can also gain a Plunder on his way out that you should be able to draw this turn pretty easily.

There are a lot of key splits to play around — Encampment/Plunder is important as always, of course the Curses matter a lot, but Fairgrounds can be a pretty big deal too. Opening here is extremely tough to figure out as well, but I would personally stack a 5/2, get a Ball for a Sea Hag and an Exorcist, and then just pay off the -$1 token on my second turn. If I couldn’t stack my deck I’d just open Sea Hag/Silver with a 4/3 and aim to pick up Exorcist and Spice Merchant ASAP.

I had cute little names for each of these finals kingdoms. The name I have for this is a mild Game of Thrones spoiler so I won’t explicitly post it here, but it has to do with the poor Tragic Hero being brought back to life only to be killed again and again.

Finals set 2: Counting House, Minion, Royal Carriage, Distant Lands, Council Room, Ghost Town, Storeroom, Leprechaun, Coin of the Realm, Chapel, Travelling Fair, Fountain

This board was only played once, sadly; sometimes that’s just how it goes. I really enjoyed putting this one together, the idea behind it was that I wanted the Counting House/Travelling Fair combo to be present, but also the hard-counter of Minion. But I also wanted Minion to feel bad to play, so the only support it has here is Royal Carriage and Travelling Fair (and Chapel, obvs.) so the deck takes quite a while to build and doesn’t green particularly well, especially because it doesn’t have much of a chance to pick up Fountain points if it wants to stay viable. Any other deck you want to build can’t really splash a Minion play because you’ll be attacking yourself just as much as your opponent, so I wanted to make it so that the combo could even be viable in the face of the hard counter. After some playtesting, the two strategies end up being pretty close, surprisingly.

But that’s not all, I wanted MOAR layers! So I thought that including Council Room would be fun, that way the combo deck player could have to play around potentially drawing extra cards, which can be pretty bad in certain situations — not quite as bad as being hit by Minion, though (or is it?). The Council Room deck has a lot of great enablers here and can also go for Fountain points — Coin of the Realm is a rock star here, and Royal Carriage does some work, Storeroom is great for reliability, too, it turns out you can have a very large deck here and still be quite reliable.

…in fact, even though you can live the Travelling Fair/Chapel dream and stack your opening hand so that you can trash three Estates on T2 (this is quite good for the Minion deck), it turns out that just makes the Council Room deck worse. Once you get going you can topdeck Council Rooms and Royal Carriages each hand so that you’re reliable, and just draw a billion Coppers every turn (yes, you’re buying Coppers with all of your extra buys, even after you have Fountain points). It’s very easy to activate Leprechaun in this deck (Reserve cards are great for this, especially Coin of the Realm) so you can make good use of your Wishes if you should ever find yourself with 15-20 Coppers, a Storeroom, and a Wish in hand… the title of this kingdom comes in for this situation.

So there are three decks you can build: the Minion deck, the Counting House combo deck, and the Council Room deck. The matchups between each of these are quite interesting, but I think the Council Room deck is just the most powerful one, which is OK with me. I’d probably open Council Room/Coin if I had the choice, but a Storeroom/Silver opening is quite good here too, especially if you can high-roll and get a Council Room AND two Coins on that next shuffle.

The title of this kingdom is “I wish for a Counting House.”

Finals set 3: Capital, Inn, Cobbler, Sacrifice, Conclave, Feodum, Ironworks, Shepherd, Secret Cave, Menagerie, Raid, Scouting Party

Who doesn’t like Menagerie? Nobody, yeah that’s what I thought. Secret Cave is also my favorite card from Nocturne, and goes quite well with Menagerie. The tough thing here is that you can build a neat Menagerie deck, but with Capital as the only source of +Buy, it’s really hard to score a lot of points on your turns, so is building really worth it? Then there’s Feodum with Ironworks AND Cobbler, but only Raid to gain Silvers? How are you going to make that work? You can do a lot of cool stuff on this board, but scoring points is not so easy. So how do you do it?

The neat thing about this board is that you can build up really quickly using Menagerie as your main source of draw, and you can shove a lot of Cobblers and Ironworks into your deck; this buildup is so good that I think you have to go for it, but then I think the best thing to do is to transition the entire purpose of your deck away from Menagerie, into using Shepherd as your main source of draw. You can overdraw so much that you can gain a Feodum or two in a turn, Sacrifice them, and draw all of the Silvers, and then Raid multiple times to suddenly have 18 Silvers in your deck. Now your Feoda are worth an obscene number of points, and you can still trigger a Menagerie or two each turn if you managed to get enough unique cards in your deck, even with 18 Silvers or more. Now you just gain Feoda and Silver like crazy with Cobbler, Ironworks, and Raid, and emptying the Silver pile can take only 3 or 4 turns and you get an unreal number of points. Adam Hopkins managed to accomplish this, having 36 Silvers in his deck by the time the game was over; his Feoda were worth 12 points each.

I would open Sacrifice/Silver on this board, and then after that I’d spam Ironworks and Cobblers and other unique cards until I got my Magic Lamp to go off. I think I ended up doing better when I only trashed Coppers to my Sacrifice, keeping the Estates around. In most of my playtesting games I found myself spending all three of my wishes on Menageries, though it can certainly vary depending on your draws. It felt a little weird getting that third Menagerie, but it reminded me of this meme, which is coincidentally the name I gave this kingdom 😛

Finals set 4: Bank, Grand Market, Crown, Library, Den of Sin, Villa, Jack of All Trades, Scheme, Changeling, Monastery, Seaway, Inheritance, Platinum/Colony

This is the set I had slated for the final game of the tournament, you can do some pretty nutso stuff here. Everyone who played this board in the tournament went for the shiny distraction I put in — Monastery, Grand Market, and Den of Sin are the core components of that deck, but the Jack/Changeling synergy factors in there too. It’s a race for Grand Markets and then suddenly piles are empty, but there’s more…

I built this set around the synergy that Villa has with draw-to-X cards like Library and Jack. You can enter your buy phase, spend your treasures, get a Villa, then go back to your action phase and draw a bunch of cards. So the idea is to do this a lot, put Seaway on Villa at some point, and then at the end of it all, Crown a couple of Banks that are worth about $30. Scheme and Library give this deck a ton of consistency — in playtesting I could reliably empty Colonies by turn 9, sometimes on turn 8. The power level is absolutely insane, so much that cards like Grand Market, Den of Sin, and Monastery, which are normally powerhouses, are just not good enough because they don’t really fit in with what the deck is trying to do.

Inheritance and Changeling are there to make the mirror match a little less weird — I could usually empty Colonies by only using 5 Villas, but I didn’t really want Villa denial to be a thing, so I added in these two other methods of getting Villa’s on-gain effect so that a competent player could still make the magic happen if their opponent just went crazy trying to empty Villas.

On this board I would open Jack/Scheme and hope that I hit $5 over the next two turns (this speeds the deck up a lot, you can get an early Library and start going crazy immediately). Pick up Schemes on any sub-$5 hand and just start adding draw cards to the deck as fast as possible. You don’t even have to have a Bank at the start of the megaturn, you can buy it, then get a Villa, then draw it and it’s still insane. You can Seaway Villas mid-turn if you need to, and you can even enter your Night phase and gain stuff with Changelings, and get a Villa and go back to your turn if you want.

The name of this kingdom is “Don’t worry, you’ll probably have one or two Grand Markets by the time I empty the Colonies”

Anyways, I’m super-happy with the turnout for this tournament, it’s the biggest I’ve had and it looks like the hype is spreading — even though quite a few regulars had to cancel last-minute, the turnout was still this big. The next one could be even bigger!

Dominion: Video Tutorial update


Over the past few weeks I’ve been making updates to my Dominion Video Tutorial series. In the playlist linked above, I’ve made changes to videos 2-7, in case you’ve seen the tutorial before and just want the new stuff.

The updates incorporate some articles I’ve written recently for this blog, as well as refining terminology and teaching methods I’ve had a chance to use over the past year — I had the opportunity to do a lot of individual coaching sessions and give a seminar at U-Con, a gaming convention in Ypsilanti, MI this year, and the feedback from the target audience of these videos was a huge help in updating things to make them clearer and more useful.

This isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time I make updates to these videos, so your feedback is welcome. You can also check out the new forum section of Wake Up, Meeples! if you want to give some feedback on anything else related to this blog or Dominion in general.

Dominion: Payload and Deck Control

Payload cards are the cards you play that will enable you to do things that win the game.

Most of the time this directly relates to scoring points; money and buys can be used to buy green cards, so if you plan to do that to win the game, then money and buys are payload. Your payload could also be in the form of a card that gains VP cards without buying them.

Maybe your payload is Monuments or something because they give you VP tokens. Maybe your payload is something that hurts your opponent‘s ability to have his payload, like an attack or even denial of resources they need like a key split.

Why is it that hurting your opponent counts? When it comes to thinking about payload, you can think of it as zero-sum, meaning that you care mostly about the difference between your deck and your opponent’s deck. Hurting your opponent helps this comparison.

If the game situation is right for it, your payload could be the ability to empty piles with a lead, or even just the ability to threaten it.

While your strategy should remain focused on the long-term goal of winning the game, your payload will probably not be directed towards scoring points until the end of the game. Cards like Workshop and Quarry are great payload cards early on in the game because they help you grab more good stuff for your deck, even though later on in the game they aren’t fantastic at getting points.

There is an important distinction between this type of payload and the type of payload that’s focused on scoring points; without the ability to do something more that simply getting one Province in a turn, it’s often not worth building a more complex deck than Big Money…

The biggest takeaway to get from this definition is that before the game starts, you should have an idea of the best payload your deck could have given the kingdom. By planning this out, you can get a rough idea of how much you want to build, and prevent the situation where you make a glorious deck and then realize there’s no +Buy, and your opponent already has 4 Provinces.

Many people have wildly different definitions of payload. It’s OK to have different definitions; the point of this article is not to change your mind, but rather to lay the groundwork for good deck building by distinguishing the roles that certain cards play in your deck. Your definition of payload doesn’t have to be the same as this; as long as you get the idea, you should be OK grasping the point of this article.

With that in mind, let’s define another term to go along with payload…


Deck Control cards are the cards whose purpose is just to enable you to play other cards.

So this is +Cards and +Actions, also trashing, sifting, that kind of thing. Even junking your opponents fits here because it makes it harder for them to play their payload cards. Once you’ve identified your payload, the deck control cards are the ones that answer the question “how do I play my payload cards?

Keep in mind that while Villages and Draw are great examples of Deck Control cards, cantrips fit into this category even if they aren’t Villages or Draw since they will at least give you +1 Card and +1 Action.

Understanding the distinction between Payload and Deck Control, why it’s important, and how you can apply it to actual games of Dominion is the important thing here, not the minutiæ of the definitions.

If a card is neither payload nor deck control, then we can call it a dead card. So most green cards once they’re in your deck, Curses, a trasher you aren’t using anymore, etc. these are dead cards. Other definitions of dead cards are a little more broad, like any card that does nothing when drawn.

It is possible for a card to have both payload and deck control elements — Torturer and Grand Market are great examples of this. Usually these cards are cantrips, or draw cards with an extra ability; and usually they’re very powerful.


So let’s go into a little bit more detail on how we can use these concepts to play better Dominion.

The first major thing here has already been mentioned, but it’s worth mentioning again. Knowing the best payload your deck can have before the game starts will prevent you from building too much on a board where your payload is limited.

If we extend this concept to deck control, we can prevent poor building on boards where the deck control resources aren’t adequate as well — if villages, draw, or trashing is not present, it may be difficult to actually pull off a turn where you get your full payload.

With a lot of experience, you can use all of these metrics to get a feel for how various decks will play out before the game starts, which is a decisive advantage, but just trying decks out and seeing how they function will help you dial in this skill over time.

Usually when I refer to the payload of a deck, or a payload that you’re aiming for, I use deck control as a way to temper my expectations — in other words I take deck control into account when considering my payload. My payload can’t be “play ten Bridges” if there is no village on the board, for example, so the limitations of your deck control at any point are important when thinking about what the real potential of your deck is, and this is a much more practical way to use the term “Payload.”


The concepts of payload and deck control are not just limited to forming your strategy at the start of the game. We can get insight on how to improve our deck building through this viewpoint as well. There are other related concepts like overdraw that I won’t go into detail on here.

The main takeaway is that once you have control over your deck, you want to strike a balance between increasing your payload and still being able to draw most or all of your deck each turn. Identifying which role each card in your deck plays will help you make better decisions when adding cards to your deck.

It also will highlight the importance of the cards that serve both purposes: payload and deck control. Frequently there will come a time when the thing you want to do is just shove these cards in your deck as quickly as possible, and this makes your deck much easier to build.